“Wow, you’re so articulate.”
“Are you the cleaning lady?”
“Do you have a Ph.D.?”
“James? What’s your real Asian name?”
You’ve heard or heard of statements like these. Students and scholars call them “microaggressions”—casual, everyday comments and questions that might not rise to the level of a verbal altercation or a physical beatdown, but are rooted in stereotyping and racially-biased assumptions nevertheless.
Some microaggressions are obvious. But it can take a well-tuned ear to perceive the subtleties and nuances in others. The people delivering coded comments might actually intend them as compliments, not realizing that they are holding on to stereotypes that are invisible to them.
As a returning African American and retired Systems Engineer student, after 20 years absence from academia, these microaggressions, not only by whites but surprisingly from other African American professors, raised my blood pressure. The first two weeks with an unfamiliar professor was a tight rope walk between maintaining respect for their proficiency and battling their cultural and class ignorance.
I must add to the author’s short list of microaggressions with these.
The patronizing African American father,
“I know your struggle. We were so poor…”
First day of class,
“You might want to take an easier class.”
The Master’s research meeting,
“We may want to refer to … for more information on the local drug scene, street life, …”
Your eyes bulge, but hopefully not enough to be that one person every African American does not want to stereotype at these venues. The Angry Black Woman or Man. So you recline, count the hours until you can make a hasty retreat, count up how much you are spending for this abuse, open your books at night and push the demons away to let in empirical evidence that this is all not a waste of time. This article places the response to these microaggressions better than I ever could.
“The greatest microaggression, some say, is that they feel unable to express their displeasure. That’s because they don’t want to be perceived as “angry” people of color who constantly play “the race card.” A few others say they’ve learned not to get angry or paranoid: Microaggressions, they say, reflect the flaws of the people dishing them out. Better to invest their time and energy on working on things they can change.”
In business, there is the option of consulting attorneys in the worse cases. Academia does not afford students this option. Students are locked in by a financial and personal investment. These perpetrators know this and find no need to leash their ill-behaviors.
The article points to a book, a supplement to the film “Dear White People,” “Dear White People: A Guide to Inter-Racial Harmony in ‘Post-Racial’ America,” which hopefully all academic professionals and students will absorb. If they cannot find the time, there is also a chart or shortlist to guide them through their internal war with their past and present demons toward a more cultured future.
Link to Dear White People: A Guide to Inter-Racial Harmony in ‘Post-Racial’ America by Justin Simien, Ian O’Phelan on Amazon.com